Approximately 600 people from throughout Greater Boston and beyond came together to celebrate the installation of Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld as the ninth—and first female—president of Hebrew College.
The event, which took place at Temple Emanuel in Newton, drew both local and national educational, religious and community leaders, including Ambassador Zeev Boker, Consul General of Israel to New England, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow, CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker; former American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, and Boston Chief of Education Turahn Dorsey, as well as political leaders, rabbis, cantors, deans and faculty members from many universities and theological schools, and numerous other dignitaries and guests from across the country.
Hebrew College Rabbinical School Rector Rabbi Arthur Green delivered the statement of affirmation to officially install Rabbi Anisfeld. Other speakers included Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York, Idit Klein, founding executive director of Keshet, and Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, all of whom have studied with Rabbi Anisfeld, as well as Andy Offit, chair of the Hebrew College Board of Trustees, and Rabbi Baker.
Rabbi Anisfeld expressed gratitude to everyone who has enriched her personal and professional journey and spoke of the important work of Hebrew College: to promote the love of Torah and the study of Jewish texts, traditions, languages, literature and ideas in a vibrant, pluralistic setting; to foster communities in which people listen to each other with open hearts and minds; and to prepare religious and educational leaders who are knowledgeable, compassionate and communally engaged. She also spoke of the connection between learning, leadership and service.
“We’re living in a time when so much conspires to make us feel alone and untethered. In a world that is fractured and frayed, we are—we must be—witnesses to a deeper truth. One of connection and compassion. One of humility and hope. This is our sacred mission at Hebrew College. And never has it been more vitally important,” said Rabbi Anisfeld. “From the beginning, the Jewish journey has been one of engagement, of responsibility for rather than retreat from the world. This is what we ask of our students and each other again and again: go deep and go wide.”
Rabbi Anisfeld became president in July 2018, after being appointed president-elect in November 2017 and serving as acting president from January to June 2018. A graduate of Brown University, she was ordained in 1990 by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and spent 15 years as a Hillel rabbi at Tufts, Yale and Harvard universities. She came to Hebrew College in 2003, serving first as an adjunct faculty member in the Rabbinical School and then as Dean of Students from 2005 to 2006, before serving as Dean of the Rabbinical School from 2006 to 2018. During her final year as dean, Hebrew College welcomed the largest incoming class of any single-campus rabbinical school in the country.
Rabbi Anisfeld has been a summer faculty member for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel since 1993, and is co-editor of two volumes of women’s writings on Passover. In 2015, she was named one of the “50 most influential Jews” in the world by The Jerusalem Post. From 2011 to 2013, she was named to Newsweek’s list of “Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America.”
Rabbi Green praised Rabbi Anisfeld’s leadership, scholarship and vision. “She has modeled that true leadership means building a caring community,” he said. “The authority of such a leader rises from within the admiration and esteem in which that community holds her. She then makes use of that authority to challenge the community to grow, to become more open, and to live more fully the values to which it is committed.”
More than 500,000 Jews worldwide are touched by Hebrew College alumni each year, in congregations and schools; on college campuses; in pastoral care settings; in youth and adult learning programs; and in organizations promoting social justice, Jewish education and Jewish creativity around the world. As it approaches its centennial in 2021, the College remains committed to excellence in Jewish learning and leadership within a pluralistic environment of open inquiry, intellectual rigor, personal engagement and spiritual creativity, and is looking forward to a period of growth and transformation as it plans a move from its current campus in Newton Centre.
“Over our 97 years, our commitment has never wavered: to deep Jewish learning, to inclusion and to nurturing leaders that inspire, innovate and channel their love of Torah toward building a more compassionate world,” said Offit, the chair of the board. “Today, we look toward the future with enormous enthusiasm and reflect with great pride on the ways in which Hebrew College has been at the forefront on issues such as women’s empowerment or providing a home for immigrants.”
“We begin this year from a position of enormous strength,” he added. “Our programs are thriving and having a growing impact—our rabbis, cantors and educators touching the lives of more than 500,000 people all over the country and the world.”
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